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Law and Order Week: Naked City
Andrew Rule and Tom Noble discuss the truths of true crime. Andrew Rule co-wrote The Age’s ‘Naked City’ (with John Silvester) column for many years and, again with Silvester, co-wrote (and self-published) the Underbelly book series of true crime that was later adapted for television. Tom Noble was The Age’s chief police reporter in the late 1980s, before writing the bestselling books Untold Violence, Walsh Street, Neddy and 2009’s I, Mick Gatto. They join Rhys Muldoon to discuss truth, responsibility and the vivid personalities of crime writing.
Muldoon begins by asking Rule and Noble whether they believe that true crime writing constitutes Australia’s secret history. Rule then explains his first encounters with Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, while Noble discusses working with Neddy Smith.
As Muldoon ponders what makes criminals different from the rest of us, Rule and Noble discuss the dark urges, selfishness, violence and penchant for instant gratification that characterises many of their subjects.
On the subject of the writing itself, Rule talks about what Muldoon describes as his “racy, tabloid style”. The panel discuss the way a writer might choose their tone in writing about people, bearing in mind the implicit and explicit threats they may face if imprudent or brash. The truth, they explain, can be too dangerous to tell: especially when there’s a criminal involved with a reputation (or freedom) to protect. Fictionalisation is sometimes employed in order to tell a story with reduced implications.
Rule and Noble reflect on what separates criminals they’d write about and those they wouldn’t. Newspapers' editorial angles can be a complication too, such as when Rule wrote about Geoff Clark. And there’s the question of whether an article can affect the fortunes of an inmate, as was widely suggested about the death in custody of underworld figure Carl Williams.